Monday, September 16, 2019

boxes

It's funny that no matter how old you get, all of your life's...stuff...can be fit into boxes, big and small.

In college it's the boxes you fit in your (parents') car. Soon, you become more independent and maybe it's now an apartment, which is a series of rented boxes. You get some money, so maybe start traveling with carry-on boxes. You eat a lot of cereal, which is in boxes. Maybe you meet a special someone and choose to make it official with something in a box. And if/when there are kids, there are bassinets, and cribs. Also, they are more likely to play with (in) the box the toys came in. Your front door is regularly littered with boxes from the internet, a little Christmas surprise you treat yourself to every other day. 

Along the way, you will move, one, two, three, or many more times. You go through everything you own, and it goes (back) in boxes, which you put in a box on wheels, to go to your next box. And hopefully this next one is your last, because while the adventure of moving can be exciting, the act of moving can be the worst. I've done it far too many times. I'm may be far from done, but for now I am weary.

But it's a healthy exercise, packing boxes. It's a reminder not just of what you've done, and collected over the years. It's an excercise, a reminder, that this is all just...stuff. These things are not which matter most. It's the people you're packing with, moving to, moving from. The experiences you had with them that resulted in the thing that is going in the box, or being left behind. But it is just stuff. The stuff is a totem to the memory, which you had most likely forgotten about until you put it in/took it out of that box. It is just stuff. Put in a box.

And then, the years go on. You get more boxes. You forget about the boxes, and the things in them, until you stumble upon them. But hopefully it is people, not boxes that are on your mind most days. As that is a life fulfilled.

And as a far smarter person once said, you find yourself in the final box, and someone has put you in it. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

should i stay or should i go?

Worth saying and leading with: I'm ok and I'll be fine. But some big changes, and big decisions are on the horizon. Hopefully, for my sake.

For the past few years, there's been a slow tension of indecision on many fronts - continuing to affect me more and more as the months go on. Either I'm just getting older or I'm finally wising up.

Whether geographically or professionally, I'm not sure if I'm where I should be.

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Geographically. I hate to jump on the bandwagon of "maybe we should just move to Canada" but that's actually an option. It's getting terrible out there, and I think it's going to get worse before it gets better. And when I look north, I see a society that exhibits values I hold dear, sometimes more than the ones we declare so proudly here. We have family just a few hours north, there's a cultural community for my kid. Though, worth noting, I have thoughts on too much VS the mix of forced assimilation/diversity I experienced growing up in the South. Also, Toronto/Montreal is not as far away as California (and less risk of falling into the Ocean). 

But then I think about my (partial) regret for leaving the South. Our country is not going to get better any faster with people like me leaving. It's those who stay (and return) who are going to accelerate a long overdue change. Just by being there and raising their families, and bringing their values to the local communities. I also think about what a home we are slowly making in the Northeast, and the access to jobs we have being on top of one of the greatest cities in the world, where I go daily, and the pizza and bagels are far superior. Also, buying a house, though for us, that does not yet indicate the permanence that others chose it to be.

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Career. A (more successful) friend recently told me that he hopes he wasn't put on this earth for advertising technology - which happens to be the industry I've slipped into over the years. When I try to explain what I do to friends and family, they kind of get it. And franky, what they distill about it at the macro level, is more accurate. "So you help sell ads?" It cuts through the makreting BS we tell ourselves (few companies/industries are innocent here). Don't get me wrong, being at a small company I often enjoy what is afforded me - the perks, flexibility, and sometimes-autonomy (when politics/culture don't get in the way, which they rarely don't). And while shifting gears every couple of years keeps it interesting, despite a theme/thread/story I can weave about my career journey (to a founder, investor, or recruiter), I question if I can maintain this level of enthusiasm as the years pile on.

Job/s. 8, 2.5, 3, 2, 1.5...so far. That's how many years I've been in each gig out of school (not counting the handful of other worthwhile jobs I had across the academic years). 
  • My first job was a good run, having me do big things all over the world - but following the girl to NY, I chose life (per Irvine Welsh), as I often do. 
  • I thought my next job, my second run at a big company, would be as long as the first, but I simply hit my "satisfaction point of diminishing returns" faster. If anything, quitting the first big company gave me the courage to quit my second one, something I fear many of my friends who are still at the first (20+ years later) lack. 
  • The third company - my first startup - gave me even greater confidence on who I am beyond my company, especially since know one had heard of the logo on my business card. Probably one of my best (and challenging) career experiences, which made me even more  of who i am today. And for that I'm grateful.
  • In the most recent 2 gigs, while interesting enough, seem to have me hitting that pleateau faster - based on what I'm sense and observe. Is it me or them? Probably a mix of both. Maybe I just need to pick better?

But I am becoming more certain of one thing: this pattern is not sustainable, especially in the long term. I'm sure i can find another gig, but will that really change anything for me - professionally, mentally, spiritually? Doing my own thing doesn't feel like an option, as it has its own risks (and I don't care about anything more than my personal state), but is it the better path?

=
I'm not worried. I'll figure this out. I always do. And I usually have a way of convincing myself that it's all ok. 

I just hope I'm more skeptical whenever this next go round comes around.

Friday, August 16, 2019

uncles & aunties


Growing up I had a lot of Uncles and Aunties

Most of them are gone now.

Joe, Vijay, Touchi. Countless others in faraway places who i briefly met but did not really know. Many more were not actually family, but part of my parents' adopted diaspora, living in a strange foreign land of Lee's Chickens, Winn Dixies, and Southern Baptist churches on every corner. For good measure, throw in a few of my mom's fellow teacher buddies who helped raise me after school.

I think about my parents' departed siblings, and the relationship I had with them that my wife and daughter will know little about. I sometimes miss them so much it hurts, because their deaths were too soon.

My daughter has 3 actual aunts and uncles she has met. Six if you count their respective spouses. The number goes up when you count extended family - our cousins, aunts and uncles our daughter has had the good fortune to meet. But then often closer is her always strange and silly "Cha Cha" from California who has visited her more than all her other aunts and uncles, despite the distance and his own dramas. And the old Jewish godmother on the Upper East Side who we don't drive down to see often enough. A classy lady I have become very fond of, who reports back on our well-being to her old roommate who happens to be my mother-in-law. Only in New York. 

Countless other close friends have earned the title of Uncle or Auntie for my daughter because they are our close friends, and even a few just because they are brown, yellow, or foreign - and that is part of our parents' culture we have chosen to carry with us. If you're not Asian and have achieved this title, i hate to inform you that you're stuck with it, and us.

Will my daughter continue to be spoiled by useful, amazing gifts from her "real" Uncles and Aunties like I was? From comic books, card games, Palm Pilots, salt & vinegar potato crisps, to strawberry ice cream, pink desks, micro scooters, and flowery dresses.

Will she be confused as she gets older? Who are her "real" aunts and uncles? Why do some of these non family members earn the title, and others don't? As she gets older will these cause her to seek meaningful friendships that are as close, and sometimes closer, than family? Will she grow to reflect on her relationships with the many visits to/from her many aunties and uncles, comparing who she is becoming as an adult to those adults that always were always visits for - like her parents, but seemingly cooler? 

Will she consider who her parents are - as people - in relation to their actual siblings? Will she feel remorse when they pass, and she realizes her family is shrinking?

I hope so. I also hope that she grows up with the privelage of being surrounded by the love, good and bad examples of her many aunties and uncles, related and otherwise.

Also, that she learns the trick of simply calling any friend of your parent (or brown/yellow oldwr person) whose name you cannot remember "Uncle" or "Auntie" - that one never fails.

Thursday, August 08, 2019

race to/from fear

Have you been ever been told "Go back where you came from?" 



I have. And it wasn't a cab driver telling me to go back to Alabama.

The first time I must have been 8 or 9. Walking in my upper-middle class suburban neighborhood to my best friend's house. Some teenagers pulled up in a Camaro (?), beat up and old. They start shouting a lot of garbage at me, telling me to "go back," and calling me a sand n*gger. They threatened to take their gun out of their car and shoot me if I didn't "get out of here." Having found guns before in the back of my friend's parents cars, it didn't seem an idle threat.

One of them, seeing me shaken and confused, got out and start yelling at me and shoving me around, slapping me upside my head. I was on the verge of tears or crying by that point. I honestly don't remember. He laughed, jumped back in the car, and they peeled off. 

As they sped away, I memorized their license plate through shuddering tears. That's what people did on TV, right? I tore into the nearby woods in case they came back, and stood there looking at the street for what was ten minutes but felt like an hour.

Humiliated, embarrassed, and confused, I couldn't go back home. I ran to my friend's house. I tried to compose myself as I rang the back doorbell. I broke down and told his mom and dad. We called the police. My friend and I played Mega-Man in the kitchen while we waited and I calmed down. Eventually a police officer came by, telling them they pulled over the teens - who had been drinking - and they were given a warning. I remember angrily thinking "that's it?!?" - but I definitely didn't want to go in and make a statement. To this day, I don't remember the rest of that afternoon. I don't know how I got home or if I even told my parents. But for many moments after - weeknights eating dhal and rice, every other Sunday at temple chanting mantras - I felt even more different, like an "other" hiding something from the town and people around me, that the color of my skin only teased.

That was 1985-86. 

=
Over the years, it happened several other times. Nothing as violent. Just words. Direct, veiled, or in passing. Heard on the radio, at grocery stores, in locker rooms, and by girls' or their parents. But an adolescent's confused identity gave way to a teen's projected indifference, and soon a college boy's rebellious anger. No matter what, I would (somehow) get out of the South.

Then, I did. And the world changed. I traveled the world. Got a job. Did well. Met people. Found the girl. Had a kid. The ugliness in the air was receding, but still always lurking, as you'd hear the occasional thing from an idiot on TV, or a guy with a Confederate flag in those places you didn't go. But now our President was a cool black man, and now there was a Panera near my parent's suburban house. 

For awhile my parents often asked when I would move closer to home. "So-and-so [who's white] just moved back." But somehow, maybe because of our then (black) President, the rhetoric started showing up more, coded in veiled media messages. The backlash was worse in the places I had gotten out of. I guess racism was more OK if we could all afford a panini or a latte? So I'd give my parents a weak excuse about jobs, career, and my industry (tech) being up north and on the coasts. My wife and I were going to go sailing in Croatia. We wanted kids, and they were going to grow up on the East coast, to which eachof us had escaped. 

Then, the black kids started getting shot. In Florida. Where my half-black nephew lives. But these were isolated incidents. He'd be OK - he was also half-Indian, right?

=
Then, it was 2016. A racist was elected to the highest office of the land. The weekend after we got away to upstate NY with our baby, who was not even one. At our hotel, I saw a swastika on the cover of the USA Today. I swore off social media, stopped talking to some faraway friends, and read my daughter lots of books as she sat in my lap every night. It was going to be OK, right?

=
Then, a year ago, they started locking up brown kids. Toddlers that, when I close my watering eyes, somehow still look like my daughter. I shuddered with anger, or was it fear? 

We lived in NY, and I worked in (one of) the greatest cities in the world. We are (safely) in a bubble, right?

=
Then, a few weeks ago, some of our elected leaders - all black and brown women - were told to go back home by our President, not surprisingly. The media exploded (again), but nothing really happened. 

Then, surprisingly, against all hopes, people at a rally chanted those words back to the President. Many of my coworkers and friends - almost all of whom are white - were outraged. So this time it was too much? 

All of my brown and black friends just shrugged our shoulders. This wasn't the first time, as we calmly recounted the many times we had heard it before. Our anger doesn't do much.

=
Then, last week, there were more shootings. I couldn't look at the details. Because it keeps happening and we do nothing. I'm numb. I make my daughter a spaceship out of cardboard boxes. We are moving into a new house soon. She'll have a backyard, which I'm not sure how I feel about. The American Dream, or so I've been told.

=
Then, last night I ran into the older Indian man who works in my building. His name is Edwin. He's in his late 50's, likes cricket and Chinese food. Despite being very blue collar, Edwin is always well dressed - often in a sweater over his button-up shirt, even in the summer. Edwin has grandkids that are my daughter's age, and he dotes on her when she stops by his desk to ask him questions (she really just wants a pink sticky note). Edwin is from Burma, is a dark brown, and speaks with a thick Indian-British accent. He's become a friend, has met my parents when they visit, and I plan to have a beer or two with him before we move out. 

In our brief mailroom chat last night, Edwin told me he cancelled a (well-earned) big family vacation - grandkids and all - to Pennsylvania. I figured it was a work thing, but then he cited El Paso. He's scared, and tells me "it is not worth the risk with my kids."


I don't understand anything anymore. 

Monday, January 28, 2019

undone.

"it’s been a while man, life’s so rad! 
this band’s my favorite man, don’t ya love ‘em?"



So I like Weezer, quite a lot. They’re easily among my top ~10 bands*. Is everyone on my list equivalent greats? Of course not. But when it comes to my preference of consistent music enjoyment, I always come back to them (there’s actually an 'in-drafts' post there). 

This amusing SNL sketch came out a few weeks ago, resulting in a LOT of renewed chatter about the band, and messages from friends asking what I thought. The premise is Leslie Jones and Matt Damon arguing about which is better - the band’s old or new stuff. For me this purports a false, binary choice (reflective of our current society?), which for reasons I’ll get into, I don’t fundamentally agree with.

Am I a “ride-or-die” fan (like Matt)? Goodness, no. Have I seen the band live 10+ times - in multiple countries, including their first cruise. Certainly. I simply enjoy listening to them, and seeing what they come out with next. 

Is the Blue Album one of the best rock albums ever? Yes. Is Pinkerton the band's best album (defining 'emo' before it was a thing)? Hell yes. And while that presents its own conundrum, once you’ve heard both albums, you just kind of accept it.

Some say the band peaked early with Blue and Pinkerton, and never got 'it' back. I slightly disagree with the latter premise. Those first two albums ARE excellent — despite my dismissive first album listen in 9th grade, and the critics' panning of their second album. I would agree that the band hit 2 amazing peaks early on, and while they’ve not since they’ve not made a truly excellent album (a big deal for me), they continue to make some really good (sometimes great) music, which I can’t same for most other bands.

I think many people’s dismissiveness/hate of Weezer as a viable band anymore is telling of our society. It's bandwagon-ism, seeing history through “rose-tinted glasses”, MAGA, and the like…which is a dangerous path. Sure, the band made amazing stuff early on. And for many, nothing can live up to it. Which sets people’s expectations up for failure, VS simply allowing themselves to enjoy something for what it is, and being more present, in the moment. 

There’s a parallel point to be made about another one of my nerdly passions - Star Wars. While the prequels were an empirically pretty bad, all-too-literal CGI-spectacle, the more recent films (esp the Last Jedi) are not. And these newer entries into the canon continue to face the interwebs' ire. I frankly think it’s all based on false ownerships, built-up expectations that the years have only made steeper. some of these sentiments are well-explained in this excellent film essay, and this slightly less highbrow one (spoilers). 

So sure, some of Weezer's new stuff has been not-so-good (I’m looking at you Raditude). But why must our judgement of an artist be a standard of excellence VS enjoyment? Are any of us as excellent as our best days? I’m reminded of Teddy Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena” speechGet with it pop culture!

For me, quite a bit of 'new' Weezer has been pretty good…in fact, downright enjoyable. And I’m not talking about popcorn radio nothingness - while there is some of that - the new stuff some genuinely well-made stuff, despite how you may feel about Rivers' confessed meticulous/OCD song-writing process (though seriously, much respect for the strong spreadsheet game!). Through the effort of new albums, the band continues to unearth a a few gems*** for all of us to enjoy. We'll likely never get another Blue or Pinkerton - and need to be OK with that.

Weezer is a band I came of age to (15 into my 30s). Sure there were other bands I enjoyed equally as much over the years** - but all made a few good albums, a few so-so albums, and then kind of stopped. And not in the 'stop while you’re ahead' way - they just gave up. Weezer hasn’t given up. They've grown up, and continued to make good music that pushes and remains relevant. Some are hits, some are misses. But they’re still around doing what they like doing (and having fun), which is something we should all aspire to. 

"watch me unravel...lying on the floor, I've come undone."


=
*Among my Top 10 bands: the Beatles, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Radiohead, Miles Davis, Elliott Smith, the Dandy Warhols, the White Stripes, the Beastie Boys

**Bands that came...and went (for me): Toad the Wet Sprocket, the Gin Blossoms, MXPX, Goldfinger, the Strokes, the Shins, Muse, Interpol, the Postal Service, the National, Brendon Benson, Broken Bells, Portugal the Man, Andrew Bird

***Here are some really good Weezer songs on every album since their dynamic duo. Enjoy.
  • the Green Album (2001): Photograph, Hash Pipe, Oh Girlfriend
  • Maladroit (2002): Dope Nose, Keep Fishin, Slob
  • Make Believe (2005): This is Such a Pity, We Are All on Drugs, the Damage in Your Heart
  • the Red Album (2008): Troublemaker, The Greatest Man That Ever Lived, Pork & Beans
  • Raditude (2009): If You’re Wondering, Can’t Stop Party…ok this album is terrible. But everyone gets one lemon
  • Hurley (2010): Trainwrecks, Smart Girls, Where’s my Sex (hilarious when you find out it was originally about socks), Smart Girls
  • Everything Will Be Alright in the End (2014): Ain’t Got Nobody, Eulogy for a Rock Band, Foolish Father
  • the White Album (2016): Thank God for Girls, Summer Elaine and Drunk Dori
  • Pacific Daydream (2017): Mexican Fender, Beach Boys, Weekend Woman
  • the Teal Album (2019): Scrubs? 
  • the Black Album (2019): ???



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